Latest human rights row over atheism
Although she did not make any statements characterizing a local lawmaker’s comments on the subject, Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick confirmed Thursday that religious beliefs of government appointees should have nothing to do with their service on public commissions.
“An individual’s religious beliefs are not relevant to whether they can serve on, or perform effectively in, any of Cayman’s commissions,” Ms. Kilpatrick said in a statement Thursday morning.
The governor’s office was asked for comment following an explanatory statement made in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday by veteran Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden. Mr. Eden suggested that government appoint a new chairman of the Human Rights Commission “who is not an atheist.”
“It is my belief we do not need an atheist chairing our Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission,” Mr. Eden said. “I am sick and tired of some people disrespecting my Caymanian people.”
One of the protections listed in the Cayman Islands Constitution Order (2009) Bill of Rights – Section 10 – is the right to freedom of conscience and religion.
“No person shall be hindered by government in the employment of his or her freedom of conscience,” section 10(1) of the bill states.
Freedom of conscience includes freedom of thought, religion and freedom from religious discrimination. It also guarantees the freedom to worship as one wishes as long as the religious practice is not contrary public safety or infringing on the rights of another person.
Mr. Eden’s comments criticizing current rights commission chairman James Austin-Smith – who has said publicly that he does not believe in God – came after a public dispute in August over the definition of marriage in the Cayman Islands and whether same-sex civil unions should be legally recognized by the government. Mr. Eden filed a private members’ motion in the Legislative Assembly seeking government’s protection of “traditional marriages.”
Mr. Austin-Smith referred to some of the Aug. 13 Legislative Assembly debate on the subject as “poisonous hate speech.”
Those comments drew the ire of Mr. Eden, who said Wednesday that his position in the earlier debate had been taken out of context.
Mr. Austin-Smith said Wednesday that he had not heard or had time to review Mr. Eden’s most recent comments on the matter and could not provide any response. A representative of the Human Rights Commission indicated Thursday that the commission would not be responding to Mr. Eden’s debate from earlier in the week.